It is through the Holy Spirit that there will be a universal resurrection. I do not mean the resurrection of the bodies at the end (Heb. 9:26), for then the angel will blow the trumpet and the dead bodies will rise (1 Cor. 15:52), but I mean the spiritual regeneration and resurrection of the dead souls that takes place in a spiritual manner every day. This [resurrection] He gives who has died once [for all] and risen (Rom. 6:9f.), and through all and for all those who live in a worthy manner He causes the souls to rise who have died with Him in will and faith and raises them up. This He grants through His all-holy Spirit as He even now bestows on them from henceforth the kingdom of heaven.
~ St. Symeon the New Theologian, The Example and Spirit of Symeon the Pious
Christ is risen! For Orthodox Christians like myself, Pascha (Easter) is more than just a day, it is also a forty day season. For the first week (this past one) we don’t even fast at all! Having just finished with this Renewal Week (or Bright Week), I have been reflecting on a common motif of the Christian spiritual life and how perfectly it describes Christian asceticism: dying and rising with Christ.
Very briefly, asceticism in general involves a threefold process: 1) awareness of oneself, 2) denial of oneself, 3) transformation of oneself. Or, to use theological terminology: life, death, and resurrection.
For example, fasting is asceticism applied to our appetite for food and drink. A person cannot deny their hunger or thirst if they are unaware of it in the first place. Indeed, as most fasting is traditionally a limitation of diet and not a total fast, it is helpful to know specifically what one hungers or thirsts for in particular.
On the other hand, sometimes the act of fasting from meat, for example, reveals to us the intensity of our desire.
In any case, then we fast. We deny our desires for food in order to remind ourselves that we are more than our bodies and to strengthen our souls. If we are successful, we learn to eat only what we need when we need it, and to be thankful for all that we receive. In addition, we become more the sort of person that “hungers and thirsts for righteousness” (Matthew 5:6), knowing that “man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 8:3).
We put our hunger to death not because we think it is bad, but in order that it might be resurrected anew.
When we subordinate the lower aspects of our being to the highest and spiritual, they too become spiritualized. Every aspect of ourselves are meant for this. This, in fact, is one of the practical sides of the doctrine of the resurrection: our bodies, though not the highest parts of ourselves, are still essential parts of ourselves. Death is an unnatural state which one day will be set right through resurrection.
In this light, we can see how the other ascetic disciplines do this as well.
Almsgiving puts our desire for material things, typically for the sake of bodily comfort, to death and instead puts them into the service of other people in need, and teaches us to desire to use what we have for the good of our souls.
Simplicity, similarly, teaches us to be satisfied with less as well.
Silence puts to death our speech that we might learn to speak only what is good.
Prayer, too, teaches us to use our words for worship and the pursuit of virtue.
Hesychasm (stillness) puts our breath in our control in the service of prayer.
Vigils put our desire for rest to death that even in sleep we might unceasingly pray.
Watchfulness puts our thoughts and feelings to death in order that they might not lead us into sin but serve virtue.
Chastity puts to death our romantic and sexual desires that they might become servants of self-giving love.
Solitude puts to death our desire for other’s company that we might not use others as a means to an end or be distracted from the omnipresence of God.
Meditation (or contemplation) puts our mind’s conceptions to death, in particular our conceptions of God, that we might encounter him in purity, and in so doing have all our ideas purified by divine grace.
In the end, our goal is to be able to say with St. Paul, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).
And because Christ is risen, and I have been baptized into his death, I too, through asceticism, have the hope that I might “walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4).